Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1964 No. 90 - March 09, 1964
AGO Opinion Header Image
John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- DRIVER TRAINING EDUCATION ACT ‑- FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF PROGRAM ‑- PENALTY ASSESSMENT ON TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS ‑- BASED ON AMOUNT ACTUALLY PAID INTO COURT.

Under § 4, of the driver training education act, chapter 39, Laws of 1963 (RCW 46.81.030) where a fine imposed for a traffic violation is suspended in whole or in part, the penalty assessment is to be based upon the amount actually ordered paid into court.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                   March 9, 1964

Honorable John G. McCutcheon
Prosecuting Attorney
Pierce County
Tacoma, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 90

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Under § 4 of the driver training education act, chapter 39, Laws of 1963, where a fine imposed for a traffic violation is suspended in whole or in part, is the penalty assessment to be based upon (1) the fine initially imposed, or (2) the lesser amount ordered paid into court?

            In our opinion the penalty assessment is to be based upon the lesser amount ordered paid into court.  Our reasoning is contained in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The purpose of the driver training education act, chapter 39, Laws of 1963, is stated in § 1 thereof as follows:

            "It is the purpose of this act to provide the financial assistance necessary to enable each high school district to offer a course in driver education and by that means to develop in the youth of this state a knowledge of the motor vehicle laws, an acceptance of personal responsibility on the public highways, and an understanding of the causes and consequences of traffic accidents.  The course in driver education shall further provide to the youthful drivers of this state training in the skills necessary for the safe operation of motor vehicles."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            The means of financing the program are contained in § 4, of the act, which provides:

            "There shall be levied and paid into the driver education account of the general fund of the state treasury a penalty assessment in addition to the fine or bail forfeiture on all offenses involving a violation of a state statute or city or county ordinance relating to the operation or use of motor vehicles or the licensing of vehicle operators, except offenses relating to parking of vehicles, in the following amounts:

            "(1) Where a fine is imposed, two dollars for each twenty dollars of fine, or fraction thereof.

            "(2) If bail is forfeited, two dollars for each twenty dollars of bail, or fraction thereof.

            "(3) Where multiple offenses are involved, the penalty assessment shall be based on the total fine or bail forfeited for all offenses.

            "Where a fine is suspended, in whole or in part, the penalty assessment shall be levied in accordance with fine actually imposed."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In construing a statute we must recognize that the intent of the legislature is the vital thing to be ascertained.  Featherstone v. Dessert, 173 Wash. 264, 22 P.2d 1050 (1933).  Furthermore, the legislature is presumed not to have used superfluous clauses, sentences or words.  Therefore, if possible, we must accord meaning to every clause, sentence and word in the statute above quoted.  State v. Lundquist, 60 Wn.2d 397, 374 P.2d 246 (1962); Group Health Etc. v. King Co. Med. Soc., 39 Wn.2d 586, 237 P.2d 737 (1951).

            Had the legislature intended the penalty assessment to be levied in accordance with the fineinitially imposed there would have been no reason for it to have added the last sentence above emphasized, i.e., "Where a fine is suspended, in whole of in part, the penalty  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] assessment shall be levied in accordance with fineactually imposed."  Therefore, the fact that the legislature did include this provision should be taken to mean that the situation in regard to the penalty assessment is not the same in the case of suspension of the fine in whole or in part as it would be where there is no such suspension.

            Giving effect to the rule of construction above noted, we therefore conclude that the penalty assessment is to be levied in accordance with the amount the individual is ordered to pay into court rather than the fine initially imposed.

            In reaching this conclusion we are aware that the word "imposed" normally refers to the sentence initially "laid on" by the court, State v. Liliopoulos, 165 Wash. 197, 5 P.2d 319 (1931); and that as used in the language emphasized above we are giving it a meaning different from its common meaning.  However, our court has done this on several occasions where doing so would reflect the true intent of the legislature.  InGroves v. Meyers, 35 Wn.2d 403, 213 P.2d 483 (1950), the court stated at page 407, as follows:

            "Such a construction is possible here, for while words are usually to be given their ordinary meaning, the literal meaning need not be followed where it is clear that they were intended to be used in a different sense. . . ."  (Citation omitted.)

            InCory v. Nethery, 19 Wn.2d 326, 142 P.2d 488 (1943), the court, in quoting one of its previous cases, stated at page 332:

            "'While it is a primary and general rule in the construction of statutes that effect should be given to words which are plain, unambiguous and well understood, according to their natural and ordinary sense and meaning, yet it is well settled that where the literal interpretation of a particular word or phrase is repugnant to the intent of the legislature plainly manifested by the act taken as a whole, such interpretation ought not to prevail.  The only object of construction is to ascertain the meaning and intention of the legislature, and when that intention is discovered it is controlling, although it may be contrary to the strict letter of the statute.'"

            And lastly, inFeatherstone v. Dessert, supra, the court at page 268 stated:   [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] "In the interpretation of a statute, the intent of the legislature is the vital thing, and the primary object is to ascertain and give effect to that intent.  When the intention of the legislature is clearly apparent from a reading of the statute, then there is no room for construction.  A particular word is not always to be given a strict and literal meaning; it is the sense in which it was intended to be used that furnishes the key to its interpretation. . . ."

            We believe our resolution of your question truly reflects the intent of the legislature while at the same time removing such ambiguity as may have been created by the inclusion of the last paragraph in § 4, of chapter 39, Laws of 1963, supra.

            In further support of our conclusion it must be remembered that § 4,supra, is penal in nature and must therefore be strictly construed. Seattle v. Green, 51 Wn.2d 871, 322 P.2d 842 (1958).  The result we reach gives effect to this rule.

            You are therefore advised that where a fine imposed for a traffic violation is suspended in whole or in part the penalty assessment provided for in § 4, chapter 39, Laws of 1963, is levied in accordance with the amount the individual is ordered to pay into court.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo